“because your liberation is bound up in mine…”

[this is a blog i initially wrote in the summer of 2012 while living in a small arab village in Galilee, Israel]

when i initially left the states, i don’t think i realized how much “alone time” i would have here in Israel. as lame as it may sound, i have been spending a good amount of time reading, thinking, and writing of late; and it has honestly been rich and exciting (for the most part). it has given me space to slow down and step away from the busy-ness that so easily consumes our lives and think, among other things, about who i am and the kind of person i desire to become. and so, this post isn’t directly related to Israel-Palestine, though i could easily connect it to it. it is much bigger.

first, i should say that though it seems we live in a “rebellious” “post-label” society, i actually think labels can be helpful if we assume their inherent limited-ness and don’t confine ourselves (or others) to them, but rather use them as sign-posts on a journey of deeper understanding.

i’ve been quite introspective lately, reflecting on who i am. what characteristics or actions come to mind in trying to describe myself, i’ve pondered? what words open dusty stained-glass windows  to pier out upon the vast horizon of my soul?

i don’t know exactly what others would say, but the first word that comes to my mind – and has for some time – is empathy. my dictionary tells me that empathy is “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” indeed. yet this word and my attempts to explain it further has never seemed to sufficiently convey the height and depth of its magnitude as i experience it (and as i know others experience it as well).  maybe that’s because we’ve domesticated it? it’s a nice word. we use it to try to tell people we relate to them and their experience. “i feel your pain,” the unhelpful old proverbial phrase goes. again, labels are limited, but how to meaningfully and succinctly point to this reality that is truly much more profound than old cliches?

and then i recently came across the following quote that left me connecting other previously collected quotes in a way that just blew my mind. it was an “AHA!” moment that moved me to sudden joy, as if scales just instantly fell from my eyes. it was beautiful. speaking to those looking to stand with the indigenous population in Australia against the injustices being committed against them, Lilla Watson and the Aboriginal activist group in Queensland, Australia, 1970 put forth this quote:

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.”

That’s it! My liberation is bound up in that of my neighbor’s! As a Christian, I would say that my salvation is bound up in your salvation. that is, salvation is not merely about us as individuals, but rather more about us as a larger community, indeed all of humanity, as sisters and brothers the world over! and as this quote points out — in line with the Gospel, i would say — our identifying with those who have suffered or are suffering is not merely to stem from a place of guilt or mere pity, and our call to action should not dress itself in the garb of some sort of “savior complex,” as though you or me or we must save all those poor souls as if everything depends on us and our action. identifying with others at its core is to come from a much more profound realization and experience of our interconnectedness. ultimately, what i’m trying to convey is much more than a change in semantics; it is an entire paradigm shift toward a truth i believe exists deep within each of us but is difficult to truly grasp, and only in uncovering it and living into it are we able to become ever more like the human beings God desires us to be. Indeed, to become more like God.

this realization finally gave me adequate words to describe an aspect of my being that i have had difficulty conveying even though i “knew” it, and it does so especially when paralleled with the following quotes i’ve collected. i hope they inspire you as they’ve inspired me that together we might become more than who we presently are–more fully who we truly are as the Imago Dei (image of God).

—– (in explaining the indigenous South African humanist philosophy of ‘ubuntu’): “Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. It speaks to the very essence of being human…It is to say, “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours.” We belong in a bundle of life. We say “a person is a person through other persons.”” — Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness

—– “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s own chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others” — Nelson Mandela

—– “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” — Mother Teresa

—– “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” — Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from a Birmingham jail

—– “We are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically, to the rest of the universe atomically” — Neil deGrasse Tyson (p.s. in case you haven’t seen this, you should!)

all my love,

eric.joseph

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